Career Resources for Students with Disabilities

Getting Started

How can the career center help me?

The first step in any career search is to reflect on what is most important to you as you begin your search. To that end, the Cawley Career Education Center is a space where you can ask questions about all aspects of personal career development. We even have a dedicated staff member who offers appointments throughout the semester (use her appointment calendar to schedule an appointment). We provide a supportive and nonjudgmental environment and we know how often personal identity connects to career decisions. The guidelines below, while far from all-encompassing, are intended to help you make informed decisions about your career plans.

Understanding your rights under the ADA

As a person with a disability, it is good to know what your status is under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. 

As it pertains to career services, the ADA:  

  • Helps people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities.
  • Applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do the job without causing the employer “undue hardship” (too much difficulty or expense).
  • Defines disability, establishes guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process, and addresses medical examinations and inquiries.
  • Regulated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(link is external). 

It is important to note that while you may qualify as being disabled under the ADA, it does not guarantee employment. You must also be qualified for the job for which you are applying by having or demonstrating the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements for the position.

You also must be able to perform what are called the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. These ‘essential functions’ are often what is listed as the responsibilities or job duties in a typical job announcement. 

What qualifies as being “disabled”

According to the ADA, a disability is described in the following way

(1) Disability
The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).

(2) Major Life Activities
(A) In general
For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

(B) Major bodily functions

For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

(3) Regarded as having such an impairment

For purposes of paragraph (1)(C):

(A) An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.

(B) Paragraph (1)(C) shall not apply to impairments that are transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.

Disclosing Your Disability Status

Once you know if you qualify as disabled under the ADA, the next step is what do you do with the information you have? That is, do you disclose your status to a (potential) employer? It is important to know that you do NOT have to disclose at any point in the process. This decision is entirely up to you and how comfortable you feel disclosing your disability.  If you do choose to disclose, there are generally three opportunities to do so. 

  1. In your application documents (i.e. resume, cover letter, personal statement)
  2. In an interview
  3. After you start working for the organization
  4. In a request for reasonable accommodation during the interview process, or once on the job

To talk to someone about the best way to navigate this process, stop by or call the career center. We are here to help you every step of the way. 

Requesting Reasonable Accommodations

Once you are in an internship or a job, you may find that requesting reasonable accommodations can help you perform your job to the best of your abilities. Please know that requesting accommodations is incredibly personalized, both for the person requesting, and for the organization. It often requires some form of medical proof (not of the disability, but that you are working with a medical professional) and some type of negotiation with your manager and appropriate human resources office. 

For more information, you can check out the following resources on how to request accommodations: 

Begin with application 

The process of requests often begins with your job application. It is very common to see a question somewhere on an application page asking you to disclose your disability status. This is because many organizations who work with the federal government (Georgetown included) have to prove that approximately 7% of their workforce qualifies as disabled, in order to obtain federal funding. This information is often kept on hand for data purposes, but is more anonymous and does not get passed along to hiring managers. 

You may also request accommodations as part of your job interview process – whether that is requesting virtual interviews, more time for skills assessments, etc. 

If I disclose, who has access to that information?

This is considered Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and often is only available to an HR manager. The HR Manager may let the people hiring know you have an accommodation, but cannot disclose specific information about the request. 

Job Search Strategies

What should I put on my application documents?

Whether you choose to disclose your disability on your resume or cover letter depends on how comfortable you feel with potential employers having this information.  A career counseling appointment at the career center would be an excellent space to speak with a trained counselor about the question of whether and how to disclose on your resume. There are many employers that are wonderful at accommodating persons with disabilities,  but there are still many who are not. When deciding which company is best for you, consider what it would mean to you to work for a company that supports their disabled workers.

Some questions to consider:

  • Will I insist on working for a company that I know is disability-friendly?
  • Will I consider companies that imply being disability-friendly?
  • What does working for a diverse company mean to me?
  • Is the company you are interested in an disability-friendly organization?
  • Do you see benefits like an EAP program, paid time off and paid sick leave, or unlimited administrative leave for medical appointments? 
  • Is your identity as a disabled person a part of your career journey? Is it something you want known? 
  • What do others (for example: peers, alumni, current employees) say about the organizational culture? Keep in mind that every opinion, good or bad, may come with some amount of bias.

Questions you can ask an employer in an interview

  • “Would you say that your company has a diverse employee base?”
  • “What types of reasonable accommodations do you offer?”
  • “Does your organization have a disability affinity group?”
  • “What is your organization’s approach to work-life balance?”
  • “What is your organization’s work mode?”

Illegal Interview Questions

Did you know that it is against the law for employers to ask you certain questions in a job interview? For example, it is illegal to ask anyone their disability status, even if (and especially if) that disability is a physical one.

Handling Improper Interview Questions
from Middlebury College’s Interview Preparation Guide:

“When you interview for a job, your prospective employer is supposed to ask job-related questions. The focus of interview questions should address your qualifications and abilities to perform the functions of the job. In the U.S., employment law prohibits employers from discrimination on the basis of certain “protected classes.” In federal law, these categories include race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), disability and genetic information (including family medical history). Learn more at (new window)

What should you do if you feel that the interviewer is asking an improper (and possibly unlawful) question? You have a few options: 

  • You are free to answer the question. However, keep in mind that if you provide this information and give the “wrong” answer, you may jeopardize your chances of getting hired. There may be legal recourse available to you if you feel that you have been discriminated against, but this is not the preferred outcome for most job applicants. •   
  • You can refuse to answer the question. Unfortunately, depending on how the refusal is phrased, you run the risk of appearing uncooperative or confrontational, and losing the job. Again, there may be legal recourse, but this is hardly an ideal situation. 
  • You can examine the question for its intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job. For example, if the interviewer asks, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” or “What country are you from?” you have been asked an improper question. You could respond, however, with “I am authorized to work in the United States.”

What is a disability-friendly organization?

While there are no perfect organizations out there, employers, especially post-Covid, are trying to do a better job in including disabilities within broader conversations about diversity and inclusion. Below are a few places where you can find out more information about organizations that could be friendly to people with disabilities. 

  • Lime Connect Partners
  • Inclusively – A website started and funded by Georgetown alums, this job posting board helps align applicants with organizations by understanding an individuals’ accommodation preferences and needs and matching them with opportunities. 
  • Mentra –  Mentra is a mission to bridge the autism unemployment gap through accessible, human-centered design. The Mentra platform tackles systemic inequality and erases the stigma through a neurodivergent-friendly application process that puts individuals looking for employment of inclusive recruiters, rather than having them navigate through mainstream job application portals. We started off in August 2020 in a pilot with Specialisterne, and we are steadily bringing on employers across different states and roles across all skill types and sectors as we grow. 
  • Job Accommodation Network – The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.
  • Resources & Support for College Students with Disabilities
  • Office of Disability and Employment Policy – Provides articles and resources on national leadership focused on disability and employment policy.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 Titles I and V – specific information on employment discrimination laws.
  • Respect Ability – source for news, education and other resources regarding issues facing people with disabilities.

Does federal law prohibit discrimination on the basis of Disability identities?

Yes. You are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Please see our earlier section on the details of what is and is not covered under the act. 

While the law is well intentioned, and every organization complies with the letter of the law, do not be surprised if you run across organizations who do not abide by the spirit of the law. The law does also not protect individuals against micro-agressions, gossip or other forms of subtle discrimination. 

How can I find an employer’s non-discrimination policy?

Search company websites or job announcements for their non-discrimination policies. You can often find these policies in the “Careers”, “Jobs,” “About Us”  or “Diversity” sections of their sites. If you cannot find a company’s policy or the language is unclear, consider calling the company and asking for a copy of the policy in writing.

How to Handle Workplace Discrimination

Workforce discrimination occurs in many ways. There are federal laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, and age. Employers are responsible for complying with the law, but you are responsible for making sure you know and protect your rights.

Discrimination in the workplace

If you experience discrimination once you have started a job, here are some tips and information about dealing with employment discrimination.

Other Helpful Resources

Professional Organizations and Associations

Most professional associations offer student memberships at a discount, and memberships usually come with access to programs such as speaker events and job fairs.